Despite the smell and sheen of newness, Mondrian London at Sea Containers – the Morgans Hotel Group’s first outing for the Mondrian brand beyond the States – has been nearly 40 years in the making. The hulking concrete block on the south bank of the Thames, between Blackfriars Bridge and the OXO Tower, was originally built to be a hotel in 1977. When a global financial crisis hit, the hotel concept was scrapped and the building instead became the HQ for a shipping company – hence the name.
I’m not a fan of a theme – here, according to the blurb, it’s the “golden age of transatlantic travel”
The 70s exterior that blighted this stretch of water for decades has now been clad and disguised and shiny new lettering hoisted onto the roof, whilst inside design supremo Tom Dixon has been given free rein on, well, everything. He hasn’t held back. This is not a lesson in restraint or minimalism – this is blow-the-budget, in-your-face designer-y goodness and I love it. Yes, it’s brazen. Yes, it’s Dixon screaming “I love curves and copper and big design budgets” – but he does it so well that I really don’t mind.
We arrived in an Uber, driving past building sites with multitudes of cranes hovering overhead. This part of the river is in a state of flux, with every spare handkerchief of land given over to the construction of investment opportunity apartments.
The hotel’s yawning lobby, with its vast copper hull installation, is a showstopper (or, indeed, fantastic opening number). Sculptures dot the space, encircled by reception staff in beautiful Karen Langley-designed outfits. The bell staff are divine (yes, I used the word: divine!) and instantly make two 40 year-old women feel fabulous, crowing over our footwear and telling my partner that her glasses are “amazing”. We’re practically fanning our faces like embarrassed schoolgirls as they show us around.
We follow the hull of the lobby around the corner into the Sea Containers restaurant, with views out onto the Thames. Here there are traces of the concrete ceiling of the original building, while Dixon has carefully saved signage and conduits to illustrate the building’s recent history.
I’m not a fan of a theme – here, according to the blurb, it’s the “golden age of transatlantic travel” – but when it’s so deftly handled it works rather strikingly. As a fan of a model-anything, I love the shipping container tankers in glass cases near the bar area, and the suspended yellow submarine above the bar in the restaurant. There’s a sense of money’s-no-object here – Dixon and his Design Research Studio have thrown every trick at the place. The restaurant loos are marble caverns lit with the gorgeous glow of Hollywood dressing room mirrors. The generosity of space is glorious.
We spent longer in the lifts than we should have, heading up to our room on the third floor and back down again, visiting each lift to take pictures of the holographic pictures which depict Anglo-American culture clash. From pearly kings to an astronaut (which is actually Dixon dressed up), we loved their quirkiness.
Dixon’s signature copper and bronze tones warmed our room. There are layers of textures and materials, from the boiled wool throw on the bed to the curve of the panelled wood housing each room’s cocktail bar, to the bespoke accessories and Knoll furniture (the hotel’s original architect also designed an iconic Knoll chair back in the 70s). The beds are comfy, the bathroom is lavish, everything is where and how it should be – full-length mirrors are well-lit, sockets are placed next to the mirror – and the lighting is spot on. Job done.
The chap at the next table described the service far more poetically than I would, as “friendly, benign incompetence”
Dining on our first night was haphazard and flawed at best. There were some delicious standout dishes from Seamus Mullen’s kitchen, but his crew were terribly let down by the service out on the floor, which was, at times, disastrous. Our table and those around us were being constantly appeased by the ever-so charming front-of-house manager. Admittedly, our stay was in the hotel’s early-ish days, but with a brand as strong as Morgans’ (and with two other hotels in the city for staff to be hot-housed in), there’s really no excuse. The chap at the next table described the service far more poetically than I would, as “friendly, benign incompetence”.
Good points: the colossal and magnificent pork chop, the kale salad (obligatory on any US menu, Mullen’s take on this is laced with apples and avocado and given a dense crunch from pecans), a delicious riff on baba ganoush, and the soufflé pudding to finish. I think I actually “Oohed” aloud when it (finally) arrived.
I have a terrible feeling that by the time you read this, the place will already have been overrun by City boys – there are too many showy spaces and features for them to ignore it. The Rumpus Room, a glass-clad box perched above the hotel, proffers terrific views and the bar downstairs is home to famed mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana’s creations. There’s something rather fabulous about tipping back a martini as lycra-clad runners with red cheeks zip past with backpacks on, whilst The Kinks belt out “dirty old river.”
There’s also a velvety 56-seat Curzon cinema down in the bowels, open to residents and non-residents at weekends, and the agua Bathhouse & Spa with its niche products (I Love My Muff anyone?) and exclusive collaborations. I floated to check-out after my 50-minute Booster Number 2.
This is tick-box hotel planning at the very highest level, but thanks to Tom Dixon’s signature touches, it feels warmer and more inviting than the others in Morgans’ stable. Let’s just hope that the City boys don’t wreck it entirely. C
Mondrian London at Sea Containers, 20 Upper Ground, London SE1
020-3747 1000; morganshotelgroup.com